IS ROVE OFF THE HOOK?

IS ROVE OFF THE HOOK? He may have used the personnel and apparatus of taxpayer-funded government agencies for partisan political purposes, but even if that's proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and in violation of the law, Karl Rove's imminent exit from the West Wing may just let him off the hook.

As I reported earlier this week, among the many fingers pointing at Rove is one belonging to Scott J. Bloch, director of the Office of Special Counsel, which administers the provisions of the Hatch Act, a 1939 law that regulates the role of government employees in electoral politics. Detailed here by CQ's Shawn Zeller, Bloch's investigation has come as close as any to really nailing Rove, having turned Rove's special e-mail account with the Republican National Committee (RNC), which he apparently used to communicate with government employees at their "dot-gov" e-mail addresses.

But that, even when leveraged by investigations by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (led by the indefatigable Henry Waxman of California), may amount to little more than a hill of beans in Rove's case for this simple reason: the Hatch Act carries no criminal penalties. The strongest, most dire corrective it offers is removal of the offender from his or her government post.

Because of a tight deadline during a congressional recess, I was unable to get an answer to the question by press time. However, I got a call yesterday from Phil Schiliro, the committee's majority chief of staff, who told me, "One of the things the committee will be looking at is whether the law works." Does that mean a legislative fix is in the offing? Schiliro couldn't say, but he replied that legislation of that sort is certainly part of the committee's purview.

In the meantime, the committee still awaits the RNC's compliance with its April subpoena for all e-mails that appear to involve the "use of official government resources to help [in] political activities." The RNC has already complied with the committee's first subpoena in this investigation -- a request for preliminary information.

--Adele M. Stan

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